Many who suffer from the damaging effects of autoimmune disease often hear from their rheumatologist that there is no explanation for the condition or its onset, and that it’s spontaneous in occurrence. In Naturopathic or Functional Medicine, we recognize that there are indeed factors that contribute to the onset of autoimmunity and that these factors can be evaluated and addressed. The onset of autoimmunity can be sudden or gradual, but notwithstanding, the symptoms can be very debilitating for the individual. In this blog, I describe features common to autoimmune diseases and share three possible contributing factors of autoimmune diseases.
According to the Autoimmune Association, there are over one hundred known autoimmune diseases, and unfortunately, they are on the rise. Mostly affecting women, probably due to the hormonal shifts experienced throughout her lifetime. Autoimmunity is when your immune system, designed to neutralize and kill foreign pathogens, begins attacking parts of you. Some common symptoms of autoimmunity include relentless fatigue, pain, and inflammation. Specific symptoms depend on which tissues or organs are affected. Examples of autoimmune diseases include systemic lupus erythematosus, which tends to affect multiple organs and tissues. In Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease, damage is directed towards the thyroid gland, thyroid receptors, and thyroid hormones. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joints are inflamed, painful and subject to deterioration and deformity. In those who suffer with psoriasis, patches of skin become thickened, flaky, itchy, and sore.
When it comes to autoimmune concerns, I evaluate contributing factors to help identify the triggers and to inform a customized approach to treating it. This helps us avoid the exclusive use of immuno-suppressants and steroids that simply cover-up your symptoms. Here are some possible contributing factors.
Important Causes of Autoimmunity:
- Molecular mimicry is when the immune system, upon attacking a foreign substance, also attacks cells or tissue in the body because they share a similar feature. This can happen for example when the bacteria called Bacteroides fragilis overgrows and suppresses healthy microbial diversity in the gastrointestinal tract. Overgrowth of Bacteroides fragilis leads to immune cross-reactivity from the production of ubiquitin, a protein which mimics human cells. This leads to the production of antibodies that target ubiquitin, resulting in cross-reactivity somewhere else in the body. This alteration in immune function resulting in molecular mimicry is known to contribute to autoimmunity.
- Increased gastrointestinal permeability results from the breakdown of the protective features in the gut like tight junctions and desmosomes. This breakdown can be caused especially by a highly inflammatory diet or pathogens for example. Once compromised, inappropriate absorption of proteins passes through the small intestine and into the blood stream where they are encountered by the immune system. This breakdown then allows continued absorption of proteins and microbes resulting in a hypervigilant immune response and the perpetuation of inflammation. This imbalance in the immune response remains until corrected. This alteration in gastrointestinal permeability and resulting immune response, is known to contribute to autoimmunity.
- Under healthy conditions, the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis allows for a balanced stress response involving both the central nervous and the endocrine systems. However, HPA-axis dysfunction, often caused by chronic stress, can leave the stress hormone cortisol chronically elevated and lead to negative effects in other areas in the body such as the nervous system. The sustained disruption of the HPA-axis can not only lead to sleep disturbances, but also mood changes, fatigue, pain, inflammation, and autoimmune reactions. This alteration in HPA-axis due to stress, is known to contribute to autoimmunity.
Each of these possible contributors can occur independently or can co-exist, creating the perfect storm for an autoimmune condition to arise. In some individuals’ symptoms can be broad and include fatigue, joint pain, poor sleep, rash, weight changes, mood shifts, and lack of mental clarity, to name a few. Autoimmune conditions can be devastating physically and emotionally, leading to diminished productivity affecting one’s career, reducing quality of life, and happiness. In aim of avoiding the exclusive use of immuno-suppressants and steroids, Naturopathic Doctors like me evaluate contributing factors to identify the triggers and to inform a customized approach to treating it. Once triggers are identified, they are utilized as a part of an effective treatment to proactively support and modulate the immune system to reduce symptoms and improve overall well-being.
Here at Inland Naturopathic Wellness Center, we work with you using an in-depth step-by-step process that includes thorough testing and use of the most advanced natural treatments.
Dr. Sasha Blissett is a California State licensed Naturopathic Doctor, who found her passion for naturopathic medicine while battling her own health and skin issues. She specializes in women’s health and takes the time to listen to her patient’s health concerns so she can understand and address the root cause of illnesses. Dr. Blissett is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine, the Integrative Dermatology Learnskin, and California Association of Naturopathic Doctors.
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